Every year on the 24nd of June the Inti Raymi festival takes place. It is a religious ceremony that is still celebrated by many Quechua people. The literal translation of these Quechuan words means Sun celebration. According to the tradition, the first Inca named Pachatutec, created the Inti Raymi to celebrate the beginning of Summer. Every year thousands of tourists and locals make their way to Cusco, to celebrate one of the most important events of the year.
Inti Raymi at the time of the Inca Empire
At the time of the Inca Empire, around 25000 people would unite in Cusco to celebrate this festival. Three days before the festival takes place the attendees had to follow a purification period in which they were only allowed to eat white maize and an herb called Chucam.
At Inti Raymi there was a lot of music and dancing, and men and women painted their faces yellow like the sun. They wore the heads of deer with their antlers and used it as music instrument. Festivities lasted the whole day. Sometimes over 200 llamas would be sacrificed during the festivities that took place, and there were parades with ancient mummies that were brought from shrines and temples.
The first three days the people would sweep the road and cover it with flowers as the Inca Sapa (the ruler of the Inca empire) walked to an enormous golden tower at Sacsayhuaman. He would climb this golden tower at the Inca complex made of big rocks and speak to the people. The priests would bless the people and the parade of people would return to the city of Cusco.
On the fourth day, the llamas were sacrificed. In bad years with earthquakes, plagues, or other unknown occurrences two children from the four Inca empire regions would also be sacrificed.
The last official Inti Raymi was in 1535, one year before the Spanish conquest. The Spanish empire banned the festival, as it was not in line with the Christianity. It was then held in secret in remote areas.
Inti Raymi in the modern days
In 1944 the festival was revived by a Quechua man named Faustino Espinoza Navarro. He wanted to restore the pride, traditions, and identity of the Quechua people. He was the Sapa Inca for twelve years. The Inti Raymi of today still contains most of its majestic uniqueness and attracts thousands of tourists worldwide. It is South-America’s second biggest festival, after rio’s carnival.
Festivities starts at 8 am in front of the Coricancha, the Inca Temple of the Sun. Here the rainbow flag of the Inti Raymi is raised and many people can be found in and around the cathedral. After about 45 minutes the people move to Plaza de Armas. Here a sacred coca leaf will be read to foresee the future of the up-coming year. Next up the people move Sacsayhuaman, where thousands of people are witnessing the ceremony. The Sapa inca is dressed in full costume and takes place at the seat in the main area. Although nowadays there are no mummies anymore and there is only one llama sacrificed at Sacsayhuaman instead of around 200, it remains a unique sight into the Inca culture and traditions.
In other countries
Inti Raymi is most popular in Cusco, as this was the city of the Inca. However, in many countries it also a well-celebrated event. Especially in countries with high indigenous presence it is a celebration of reclaiming indigenous identity. In Otavalo in Ecuador for example, the people stand together and celebrate their heritage and diversity by a colourful march in the central plaza. Decorated with multi-coloured flags they march to the plaza and afterwards there is music and dancing.
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